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Egyptian Army steps up arrests of Brotherhood supporters

Muslim Brotherhood supporters vowed to continue protesting despite this week's terrorist designation. But the pronouncement has expanded the ability to crack down on them. 

By Mike EckelCorrespondent / December 27, 2013

Supporters of the Muslim Brotherhood and ousted Egyptian President Mohamed Morsi shout slogans against the military and interior ministry in front of Al Rayyan mosque after Friday prayers in the southern Cairo suburb of Maadi today.

Amr Abdallah Dalsh / Reuters

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Muslim Brotherhood supporters have vowed to defy the Egyptian government's decision to designate the group a terrorist organization and all the restrictions that come along with the classification. But a growing dragnet picked up dozens more Brothers today, illustrating the difficulty they will have resisting the decision.

Reuters reports that security forces fanned out across Cairo and other cities today. An overnight clash between Brotherhood backers and opponents left one person dead, Agence France-Presse reports, and police used tear gas from police to break up the fighting.

The country has been in turmoil since massive protests against Muslim Brotherhood-backed President Mohamed Morsi culminated in a military takeover in July. The government has gradually tightened the screws on the group, banning it in September and imprisoning thousands of members and supporters, including several top leaders. Wednesday's terrorist designation gives security forces new tools to squeeze the organization, including stiffer jail terms and even the possibility of death penalties for some leaders.

Ahmed Imam, a spokesman for a political party founded by ex-Brotherhood member Abdel-Moneim Abolfotoh, warned that the terrorism designation "leaves the Muslim Brotherhood and its supporters only one choice, which is violence," The Associated Press reports

On Thursday, a public bus bombing in Cairo wounded five people in an attack that was notable for targeting something other than a police or military site. Two days earlier, a suicide bomber detonated outside a police building in a Nile Delta town north of Cairo, killing 15 people. The Brotherhood denied involvement in the attacks. Instead, the jihadi group Ansar Beit al-Maqdis claimed responsibility, underscoring fears by some analysts that Egypt could face a sustained Islamist insurrection as extremists capitalize on the turmoil. 

That risk, Reuters notes, is compounded by the flood of weapons from neighboring Libya since the uprising that deposed the government there almost three years ago.

Government authorities said Thursday, on the heels of the terrorist designation, that they had arrested dozens of Muslim Brotherhood members across the country, seizing their land, vehicles and other goods, The New York Times reports. The army chief who has been the face of the coup, Gen. Abdel Fattah al-Sisi, vowed to continue to crackdown. 

"Do not worry or fear, the army will sacrifice for Egypt. We will eliminate terrorism,” Gen. Sisi was quoted as saying at a military ceremony Thursday.

Today students pelted police with rocks from inside a student dormitory at Cairo’s Al-Azhar University, prompting police to fire tear gas at the building, according to AFP. Police also clashed with protesters in the Suez Canal city of Ismailiya.

The state-run newspaper Al-Ahram was quoted by Reuters as reporting that police had arrested 14 Brotherhood supporters in the Cairo suburb of Giza today on charges of participating in recent "riots and violence.”

Amid the violence and security crackdown, the government is gearing up for a referendum next month on a new constitution pushed by the military and elections scheduled for the spring and summer.

Hisham Hellyer, a scholar at the Washington-based Brookings Institution, warned in an op-ed that the military government is incapable of the “type of forward thinking necessary to prevent Egypt from slipping into a new cycle of terrorism and violence."

“The decision to outlaw the Brotherhood essentially suspends any possibility of a political settlement. The hardening of attitudes, and the demonization emanating from both sides make it difficult to imagine an Egypt without further political violence in the short and medium term.”

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